Four arrested after 131 immigrants found in Texas house
MCALLEN, Texas |
MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - Federal agents have arrested four people accused of smuggling 131 illegal immigrants found at a "stash house" in south Texas, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The 131 illegal immigrants were detained on Tuesday after a raid at a house near Alton, Texas, about eight miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, said ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda.
The immigrants at the house were from Mexico and Central America, and did not require medical attention, she said.
The four people arrested had been expected to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge to face human smuggling charges, but no court filings detailing the alleged crime had appeared in federal court by late Wednesday afternoon.
Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley, which straddles the southern tip of Texas along the Gulf Coast, have seen the number of so-called "stash houses" used to house illegal immigrants roughly double since October 2011, according to agency figures.
In one of the more brutal recent cases, two men pleaded guilty on Wednesday to harboring 115 immigrants - some without food or water for days - in a cluster of stash houses in Edinburg, Texas.
Vicente Ortiz Soto and Marcial Salas Gardunio, both 23-year-old Mexican citizens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens on Wednesday in U.S. District Court, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, who represents the Southern District of Texas.
Several of the immigrants required medical attention after authorities found dozens of them locked inside a crowded, hot, ramshackle house, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
One immigrant told ICE agents Salas would greet new arrivals with "Welcome to Hell" when they arrived at the residence and threatened to beat or kill them if they did not remain quiet, court papers state. Ortiz admitted to driving immigrants to the stash houses from the border and selling them snacks.
Each man faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at a sentencing hearing set for July.
(Editing by Mary Slosson and Todd Eastham)
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